Reconsidering Black History Month
TONY COX, host:
Commentator Meri Nana-Ama Danquah is usually pretty happy to get a paycheck. But every February she turns down work. She says it's for a good reason.
Ms. MERI NANA-AMA DANQUAH (Author): By all reasonable expectations, February should be one of my busiest and financially lucrative months. It's the one time a year when black authors and public speakers such as myself are in high demand. Every institution and organization is looking to book one.
There is plenty of work to go around, especially since I and a few other black writers that I know tend to respectfully decline these invitations. Not that I couldn't use the extra money or anything, but I resent being ghettoized, having people interested in what I do and what I have to say only during the month of February.
What's wrong with the other 11 months? Don't I get to mean something and earn money during those months, too? It's just like back when I was still in school. We'd spend the entire first semester learning about American history or world history and not one black person would ever be mentioned in the curriculum.
Then suddenly February would roll around and it would be black people galore. The same facts and faces that we'd learned about the previous year were brought out and recycled. The posters of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. will be pulled out of the closet, dusted off, and hung up on the walls right next to the ones of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
I simply do not like Black History Month. And more and more, it feels to me like a complete disservice to the very legacies that we're trying to honor: phenomenal people who have accomplished phenomenal things, achievements that have been a tremendous benefit to the entire world, not just black people.
One November, a few years back while I was living in Ghana, I attended a meeting of the African-American Association. These were a group of black Americans who had made the move back to the motherland to work and live. At the end of this particular meeting, the president of the association mentioned that February was fast approaching.
What are we going to do for Black History Month? She asked the group. I thought it was a joke. I mean, the reason people offer for the necessity of a Black History Month is that the mainstream culture does not allow for the regular inclusion of black people.
So it's important to set aside this specific time that is devoted solely to the study, discussion and celebration of black people. But does that really necessary in a black African country? And if it is, why relegate it to a month? Why not one or two days a week for the entire year?
I figured perhaps it was a wry and sarcastic way for the leader of that group to say, thank God, we're free from all that madness now. But when the suggestions came pouring in, I realized it wasn't. Now I have seen it all, I thought. Is this where we're headed? I guess all I'm really asking is, isn't it time for us to take the next step?
COX: Meri Nana-Ama Danquah is a writer living in Los Angeles.
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